Monday, September 21, 2015

Disenfranchising Core Playerbase ... On Purpose

Happened across this article about the Games Workshop AGM annual general meeting.  The whole thing is a good quick read, but will quote a few snippets here.

Background:  GW is a company name you may not recognize, but you probably recognize their primary product lines:  Warhammer and Warhammer 40k.  They're a niche tabletop miniatures company, with licenses for their IP across a wide range of tie in products (including a slew of PC games over the years).

As I've been reading more about the tabletop scene, I've noticed a large amount of angst with GW, and quite a few defectors who now swear to never buy their products again (in favor of most notably Warmachine, but honestly the tabletop market is simply exploding with neat games thanks to Kickstarter and the power of online internet shopping).  GW is the grand-daddy of these upstarts, but from my (very limited) exposure at GenCon and random local game stores, it appears that the upstarts are eating GW's lunch these days.

Part of this is an intentional strategy on the part of GW Management.  GW has been moving itself away from being a "tabletop game" company and towards a "hobby/model kit" company.   In other words - they view their primary audience as guys who assemble and paint but actually don't PLAY the games.  This comes at a time when gamers are pushing their local stores to offer more dedicated game nights but are being turned away because there's no time in the schedule to squeeze in more titles and no room for more tables.

This move isn't being unnoticed by the fan base, who a) actually enjoyed playing the games and b) are generally pissed off about being marginalized after supporting GW over the past couple of decades.

Here's the first quote:

I’ve got bad news for disenchanted gamers complaining on the Internet. The company’s attitude towards customers is as clinical as its attitude towards staff. If you don’t like what it’s selling. You’re not a customer. The company believes only a fraction of the population are potential hobbyists, and it’s not interested in the others. 
 When another shareholder asks if the company would sell games with pre-painted easy to assemble miniatures like the popular Star Wars themed X-Wing game, there’s a collective growl from the Games Workshop people. It wouldn’t be a hobby business then, it would be a toy company.
It's interesting, but not unexpected, that X-Wing came up in conversation.  Fantasy Flight's X-Wing tabletop game, in particular, appears to be simply printing money.  Expansions sell out before reprints can be shipped from China.  X-Wing is highly accessible to new gamers because, in part, the minis come pre-painted.  Clumsy guys like me can simply buy the ships and play. It's apparent that GW is dismissing this as "casual play" (in EVE terms), but that over-simplification saddens me.  X-wing has it's flaws, no doubt, but at the Club and National level is a nuanced game of strategy and ability to gauge an opponent. As my 4hr game at GenCon shows - it can scale from 3-4 ships to dozens for that 'epic' all-day gaming session that the serious guys love.  (And if X-Wing is too ezmode, its more complicated brother Armada is the X-Wing ruleset on crack.)

In response, GW is waiving their hands saying "Pah, noobs" and retreating from a tabletop market that is thriving.  This is truly puzzling ... I'm not saying that they should clone X-Wing, but simply dismissing the forces at work that is making X-Wing successful instead of trying to step in and grab market share when (not if, WHEN) X-Wing eventually cools down might be a better strategy...

I leave the Games Workshop fortress confident of one thing. Managment have set a course and they will not be deviated.  ... 
Niche businesses are often very profitable and the hard decisions they take is what makes them different, but they’re also vulnerable if unforeseen events reduce the attractiveness of the niche. ...

All of this reminds me of a certain small Icelandic video game company just before there were riots in Jita.  Niche game with a bunch of hard-headed leaders all hyping and reinforcing their own version of reality.  Sound familiar?

I hope it goes better for GW.


  1. :-) I note the tag postbittervet.

    There are reasons some guys turn slightly bitter - wrote about that a week or so ago. I really cannot work out whether CCP is deliberate in their attitude towards some players and whether some play styles are merely collateral damage towards a "bigger picture" game. Or if it is all just in my imagination.


    1. Re: The Postbittervet tag --
      I claim to have coined the term POSTbittervet as a one-word description of how I feel. Most of the time, we refer to being a bittervet as a non-recoverable condition with the only remedy being quitting the game. However, there are hundreds/thousands of players that have played up to the point of quitting, cooled off, and come back to find a new niche, and now play quite happily (if perhaps less intensely than the first time through).

      I wanted a term to describe what happens "after" someone emerges from being a bittervet. You really can't go back to being a superfan or maybe even a hardcore player, because there's still that little bit of doubt or pain or whatever. I didn't know what to call that phenomenon, so I made up a word.

      I feel like I've come back no less a skeptic, but a little bit smarter and self-aware of the things that triggered my strong negative response the first time through. I'd like to think that I take things (i.e. dev blogs or other CCP words) a little less personally. And part of the term POSTbittervet means a willingness to use that revised outlook to engage with CCP constructively to help shape the game. Or at least how I define it.

      I haven't been using the term much lately because many of the things I was wanting have actually been added (most notably, "hard" lvl4 missions and uses for small and mid-sized ships in "endgame" PVE).

      This reply got long enough to be its own post, and maybe with a little more chin scratching it could be.

      I read your linked post and found some very familiar elements from my own dive down the bittervet hole back in 2008. Good luck with your journey as we navigate these uncertain times. :)


Alpha State

"Everything that has a beginning has an end."  That's one of my favorite quotes from the Matrix 2.  It has to do with the ...